The Tautog is more commonly known as “tog or blackfish.” They are brown and dark olive, with white blotches, and have plump elongated bodies. Their scales also give them a rubbery feel with a heavy slime coating that helps protect them from the rocks. Tautog are so inactive at night that divers can easily catch them by hand as they lie motionless on the bottom.
They are found along the Atlantic coast of North America from the outer coast of Nova Scotia to South Carolina. They prefer steep, rocky shores; around breakwaters, off lying ledges and submerged wrecks; around the piers and docks; over boulder strewn bottoms; and on mussel beds. When Tautog are not feeding they are likely to gather in some hole or cleft among the rocks, where they lie inert, on their sides, often several crowded together, until the rising tide stirs them to activity again.
Juvenile and adults are exclusively daytime feeders, with feeding peaks at dawn and dusk. They have thick rubbery lips and powerful jaws. The backs of their throats contain a set of teeth resembling molars. Tautog feed upon shallow water invertebrates such as mussels, clams, crabs, sand dollars, amphipods, shrimp, small lobsters and barnacles. Juveniles and adults living around shoreline ledges feed heavily on blue mussels; their flat grinding teeth are well suited for crushing the hard shells.
Females and small males have a black chin while some larger males have a white chin. They generally tend to spawn from late April-early August offshore. The female will lay about 200,000 eggs and after hatching, the bright green larvae drift for about three weeks before settling in shallow bay grass beds. Tautogs become sexually mature at about 3 years of age and lose their bright green coloring. They have a lifespan of around 34 years.
No species is known to preferentially feed on tautog alone. However, juveniles are preyed upon by fish eating birds such as cormorants and fish like toadfish, and small bluefish. Adults are hunted by smooth dogfish, sculpin, goosefish, barn door skates and hake.